A transitional family shelter in Hermiston opened its doors this past weekend to introduce itself to neighbors, to potential new residents and to prospective volunteers.

Martha’s House, a ministry of Eastern Oregon Mission, held an open house Saturday, Nov. 20. The facility at 305 S.E. Fourth St. offers a place for homeless families to live for three to six months while they get back on their feet.

As volunteers met with visitors during the open house, they spoke of this community resource and expressed excitement over its mission.

Julia Galan, house manager, gave the first tour of the day. She walked visitors past the house’s 18 studios, kitchen and other rooms, describing the facility. On the tour, she dispelled misconceptions people might have about the place.

When people think of shelters, she said, they often think of one room dormitories with bunk beds, all lined up next to one another. While such shelters do exist and meet a need, this is not Martha’s House. Instead, Martha’s House more closely resembles an apartment building. Families, as she pointed out, have their own, private rooms.

There also are communal rooms, including a business center, a kitchen and a living room.

Galan, who has held the position since September 2020, has been with the organization for three years. She said she is often surprised when she meets people who do not know about Martha’s House; even new applicants are often surprised about the resource. As the only paid employee of the house, she mentors the people she refers to as “friendship families” and directs them to other community resources.

Building stability

Seven families, a total of 13 residents, now reside at Martha’s House, Galan said. Many of these people have relocated to Martha’s House to “cut old ties,” she said. They are trying to remove themselves from the situations, and sometimes the people, who were part of old problems, she said. Often strangers to the community, they need to become familiar with basics such as the location of stores and the post office, while they also find jobs, save money and find new residences.

Also, they are looking for loving support, which is available through volunteers, Galan said. One such volunteer was Rebecca Lafolette, committee member and mentor, who said she has been at Martha’s House for three years. During this time, she explained, she has met with people who have accomplished goals that included obtaining a GED and seeing a doctor.

“People have their struggles,” Lafolette said, adding it is helpful for people to have stable places to live while making new goals to better their lives.

Lafolette was speaking the truth, according to Angela Pursel, president of Eastern Oregon Mission and a Martha’s House board member.

Pursel recalled a woman arrived at the house with two children and “a big heart.” She found her safe place in Martha’s House, and did all the right things. She sought resources, got a job, earned promotions, Pursel said, and after six months left Martha’s House, having focused on her children and their needs and having found housing.

Now, the mom and her children are doing well.

Such examples are common, she said, and other people agree with her. In the two years he has been volunteering at Martha’s House, Daniel Wattenburger also has seen success stories. As a committee member overseeing Martha’s House, he said he witnessed people transitioning from living in cars or on other people’s couches to having their own places.

Wattenburger has face-to-face experience with such people, including a single dad whom he mentored. The man, Wattenburger said, has four children and just needed space to be with them and find the right path in life. Through Martha’s House, he was able to find work, build up savings and find a new place.

Home to more than 200 since the start

Not everyone is ready for this transition, according to volunteers, which is why, they said, Martha’s House often operates at half occupancy. Of the 18 studios, seven are available. House manager Galan stressed the house has rules, including no drugs and alcohol. Smoking also is forbidden, according to a list of tenant policies on Martha’s House website, www.marthashousehermiston.org.

Some people don’t agree with the rules, or background check and drug test which are performed, Galan said.

“If they are ready to move forward with their lives, we are here to give them the assistance that they need,” said Cathy Putnam, committee member and former interim Martha’s House director.

She added the house has provided a home to more than 200 people since it was founded in 2013.

Putnam said she understands the reasons for the vacancies, explaining that “not everyone is ready for a hand up” and some people are not yet willing to change. People, she said, need to be ready to change their lives. They also must be willing to accept structure, she said.

She recommends volunteering to other people, as does Sharon Waldern, lead mentor at Martha’s House. A retired nurse, she started helping out with the shelter through her hospital contacts. As a mentor to the other mentors, she said she has seen this work change the lives of volunteers as well as the house residents.

It gives people a good feeling, she said, to help others.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.